A trait that distinguishes successful businesswomen from others is that they don’t just show up, they are present. And though being present is helpful in work, it is also really valuable to all you do in life, whether it involves another person or not.
So what does being present mean? Being present means being conscious in this moment. Sometimes it is called mindfulness. It means you aren’t thinking about what is next. It means you aren’t thinking about what just happened. Bring present means that your attention is fully focused on what is going on right this moment.
This is most easily illustrated by imagining a conversation between two people. If they are present to each other while they converse, they appear to be dancing with each other. There is an easy give and take and they both feel that the other understood them. But how is that level of presence accomplished? Being present requires that you completely listen to the other person. That means don’t interrupt the other person and don’t presume you know what the other is going to say. Let them complete their thought before you respond. And don’t think of your response while they are speaking. Wait—then respond.
I took a course where we practiced not coming up with a response—not even nodding our head while the other person was speaking—to fully allow their words to enter our understanding. That may be difficult if your natural style is to keep the conversation moving fast or if you were taught in order to make the other person feel cared for, you need to be responsive. Actually the other person will feel more cared for and really listened to if you allow them to speak, then afterwards reflect on what they said and then add your thought. This can happen rather quickly so it still is a flowing conversation, but it requires listening to their thoughts before listening to your own.
One technique that helps improve presence in a dialogue is to repeat back—paraphrased—what the other person said before you add your thoughts. That really makes your conversation partner feel heard. If you know you have to repeat back what they said, you are forced to be really present to listen and comprehend every word they said. If you got it wrong or assumed incorrectly what they were saying, they get a change to correct your paraphrasing and say, “Actually what I meant was…” This is a magical way to interact with others. This is not just showing up. This is being present. When you are really present to a discussion, it should feel easy and natural—even if it takes practice.
When you are present to someone, you are affirming their brilliance—you are letting them know that what they say matters. And that is one of the reasons why brilliant leaders are so successful and compelling. By their being present, they make you feel significant, magnificent and seen for all that you are. And you are indeed a magnificent being who has so much to contribute to the world.
A big part of being present to others resides in the relationship to your “self.” If you aren’t grounded in your own awareness and presence, it is very difficult to be aware and present to others. Having presence stems from a deep awareness of your own feelings and thoughts—in the moment. Strangely enough, many people use the term “in the body” for being fully conscious which sounds contradictory because mind and body are often disconnected. But it turns out that physically moving your body goes a long way to reconnecting you to your thoughts, your self-awareness and your self-confidence (see A Path To Confidence for more on confidence). Moving causes you to breathe, breathing leads to relaxing, and relaxing quiets the mind so that you can be present.
Music is a great way for me to get myself connected to my own presence and what I will call my personal power. I have certain songs that I turn to over and over that automatically make my body move. Often I get caught up in singing and that also makes me present. Perhaps for others, it isn’t music but poetry, or certain mantras (words), or food, or maybe cooking, or gardening or just being in nature. Whatever form it takes, the goal is to get grounded in your own being, feel confident and get as self-aware of your inner thoughts as possible—and relax. When my body moves, I relax and I am more able to prevent negative thoughts from interfering with my confidence. Negative thoughts are notorious for taking you away from being present. Worrying, ruminating, whatever you want to call it means you are thinking about the past or the future, not the now.
Being present, as important as it is for how you interact with others, is very useful when you are all alone and doing just about any task. I find that I need to be very present when I write—a very solitary endeavor. I work out first thing in the morning so that I get my body moving. Often by the end of the exercise when I am stretching, my writing ideas begin to surface. I have become present to my own self and I have easy access to my creative source.
Some people think that you have the presence skill or not. I know that it is trainable and I believe it is critical to tap into that magical and resonant place of presence in order to positively change the way people interact with others in work, in politics, everywhere. And it is equally important for fostering your own creativity. As with so much in life, it takes practice. Practice slowing down, practice listening to yourself, practice listening to others. Each moment you have a new opportunity to practice being present instead of just showing up. You and others will be rewarded with greater connection and fulfillment.